Sunday, February 16, 2014

Ultima VI: Mis-Rule Britannia!

Gargoyles have invaded the surface. The shrines have been captured. The Avatar was nearly sacrificed on an altar. Lord British is spending his evenings reading stories to a mouse.

Over the years, I've been charitable to Lord British. Not Richard Garriott, but the in-game character. Ever since I was a kid and I picked up Ultima IV, I saw him as a larger-than-life, honorable, almost Arthurian figure, ruling Britannia with a combination of strength and benevolence.

But now I'm thinking, screw him.

Let's really scrutinize the character. On the plus side, he initiated the Quest of the Avatar and according to the Ultima V manual, brought democracy to Britannia in the form of a "monarchic republic." Gotcha. Check, check.

Now let's look at the other side of the ledger. Note that in creating his little utopia, he doesn't provide any mechanism for electing some other sovereign. Not only is Britannia a dictatorship, it's an eternal dictatorship, as Lord British is effectively immortal. In Ultima I and II, he makes you buy hit points from him despite sending you on a quest to literally save the world. He sits there and does nothing while you kill Gwenno and slaughter his entire castle full of guards. He has no faith in the people of the land he's come to rule and constantly sends back to his home world for anyone capable of fighting more than a gremlin. In Ultima V, he appoints some nobody by the name of "Blackthorn" to be his regent, blunders into underworld with an inadequate party, gets his ass tossed into jail, and hinges his rescue on the Avatar following some obscure clues to his "sandalwood box." Here's a hint, Brittni: next time you head off to the underworld, why don't you take your Orb of Instantly Returning to the Surface with you?

In Ultima VI, he completely misunderstands the gargoyle threat and utterly spazzes at the end of the game (spoilers--sorry) when you do your job and solve the quest. By Ultima VII, he's essentially a doddering old fool, completely oblivious to what the Fellowship is doing, and--if I remember correctly--sleeping with one of his maids. He basically hides in his room throughout Ultima Underworld II. I don't really have any idea what he does in VIII or IX since I haven't played them, but I assume he just sits around twiddling his thumbs while the Avatar--again--does all the work to bail him out of a situation he probably created.

Oh, you don't like being called "Mr. Nose," Mr. Nose? Does it bother you, Mr. Nose?

Honestly, if you were in charge of a company making a game series in which your alter-ego appeared as a major NPC, wouldn't you try harder to make him more regal? More worthy of all the praise his toadying subjects heap upon him? The in-game character of Lord British couldn't be more damaging to the actual Lord British if he was programmed by people who hated him.

Yes, I'm bitter.

This is why.

This woman is talking about her mother.

The Avatar held it together during this conversation. After all, Terri, the mint-worker, didn't know any better. She wasn't there. She just assumed her mother met the Avatar at the party. The Avatar said, "No, no, I don't remember her. But she sure sounds great! Have a nice day, Terri. I'll be back with those nuggets!"

Then he kept it together as he strolled outside. After a long pause, he turned around and faced his companions. The polite veneer dropped from his face to reveal an expression of cold fury. 
"Say 'Ask Shamino about that' again. I dare you. I double dare you. Say 'Ask Shamino about that' one more goddamned time."
Because to the best of my recollection, the moment--literally the moment--I recovered the Codex from the Stygian Abyss, Lord British unceremoniously booted my ass back to Earth without so much as a "thanks." Now I find out that the Britannians had a big shin-dig without me. Lord British probably took all the credit for the recovery of the Codex himself, then hit on Terri's mom. But he went to bed alone as always, because women don't really go for guys who spend their evenings reading children's books aloud to mice.

Did they have a party at the end of Ultima V, too? A big "Welcome Home, Lord British" fiesta? Were they drinking margarita shooters and dancing under the limbo stick while I was home discovering that all my possessions had been burgled?

The Avatar needed some alone time. He went to wander the forest and skip stones in a river while he wondered exactly what he was doing here. Have you ever stopped to think how badly it screws up his life to get repeatedly hauled into Britannia? You think it's easy to keep a job, let alone a career, when you disappear without warning for months at a time? Can you imagine what my family goes through? And it's not like any of the skills I pick up in Britannia are transferable to Earth. Yet every time that moongate appears, I stupidly walk through it. I face mortal peril on the other side, and when I've solved everyone's problems, do I get a sack of gold? A permanent seat on Lord British's inner council? A magic sword I could hawk for some serious do-re-mi at DragonCon? Do I even get to attend my own party? No. It's "don't let the moongate slice your ass on the way through" and pretty soon, I'm back in my house, losing an eighth with the lies I have to put on my c.v. to account for all the gaps in employment.

If only that paid my mortgage, Lynn.

If the game offered an "evil" option, I would take it, but it doesn't. So I have to rationalize why I'm continuing to help these ungrateful bastards. I suppose the best I can do is say that while Lord British might be a jerk, his people aren't. In fact, this is one of the few games in which you feel like a hero walking amidst the populace. Everyone recognizes me, either from a previous visit or because of some painting that I don't remember sitting for. They hail me, praise me, give me free stuff. It's not so bad. In fact, I think I'll stretch out this visit for as long as I can. I'm just not talking to Lord British anymore. If I need healing, I'll go to the oddly-redundant healer in Britain.

Okay, that's all long enough to sufficiently make up for the fact I haven't played more than 45 minutes since the first post. Let's get back to what little I can tell you about the game.

As I noted in the first post, I got a couple of clear directions on my quest while I was still in Lord British's throne room, but I decided to finish exploring the castle and Britain first. Between Ultima V and VI, the castle, Britain, and the three Brittanys merged into one large town (even Paws to the south is clearly part of the same metropolitan area). It was a decision that made sense, now that the game no longer requires a separate "entry" into castles and towns, although it does have the effect of making the game world seem a little smaller, as there's less wilderness area between the cities.

As usual, I've been keeping my relevant notes in Excel, including orb positions (more on that next time), NPCs, potion effects, and a "to do" list. I counted 27 NPCs in Britain (including the castle), which is far less than you'd imagine you'd find in a "real" city but about the same as you find in modern games like Skyrim. They also have about as much to say as in modern games, and once again I'm reminded that continuous improvement in all areas is not inevitable as the years pass.

It makes me wonder, whether we're talking about Britain or Whiterun, how you're supposed to view the extremely sparse populations. Are these named NPCs truly supposed to represent everyone who lives in the city, or are we supposed to pretend that there are hundreds of nameless commoners hovering invisibly in the background? By including lots of houses you couldn't enter and having random on-line villagers in the streets, the Infinity Engine games did a particularly good job making you feel like the cities were bigger than the couple of dozen people you could actually talk to. I suspect there are mods that do the same thing for the last couple Elder Scrolls titles.

As commenter RobertM pointed out, this game takes a strange but not unwelcome turn in its use of NPCs. It imbues them with personalities and quirks, and includes an awful lot of dialogue options that have absolutely no reference to the plot. Where an NPC in Ultima IV might say something like, "I MEDITATE ON HONOR!," his Ultima VI counterpart will give you a long story about how he used to be a solider but saw his friends die on the battlefield and can no longer enter combat with another person because he can't bear to watch his companions get hurt. Most of the time, none of this really leads to anything--no hints, no quests, no lore--but it still makes Britannia feel like more of a living place than the previous games. The thing is, I could imagine some players absolutely hating this.

The personalities in Britain alone could staff their own British sitcom. We have Finn, a homeless man who pretends to be Lord British in disguise. Nan, an instructor in the British conservatory and wife of Kenneth (the teacher of "Stones" in Ultima V), is a terrified of spiders and hallucinates them coming out of her lute.

Meth is a hell of a drug.

Maldric, a cook in the kitchens of the castle, used to be a boar hunter and hints that he longs for adventure again, but he gets flustered and cuts off conversation when I suggest he JOIN our party. Tholden von Bazillius, Lord British's chancellor, used to be an adventurer called "The Werecat of the Winecellar." Terri, the proprietor of the Royal Mint, took the position after the previous minter, her father, passed away. She shamelessly flirts with me, promising to show me "more than a few silly coins" the next time I visit.


They often have things to say about each other; Kenneth warns me not to ask Nan about SPIDERS, for instance, which of course I did immediately. Terri's best friend is Kytyn, the curator of the Royal Museum. Anya, a bartender at the Blue Boar Tavern, is the mother of a child named Ariana studying at the conservatory. She is also the wife of Matt, the tavern's cook, who is deaf and dumb. She asks if I can try to find a spell to restore his hearing, which I guess counts as a side quest.

More than a few of the NPCs are just silly. We already had a discussion thread on talking animals. Many of the names don't make any sense for NPCs from another world, and some of them have accents that are rather out-of-place in Britannia.

Mamma mia, that Codex! She's like a spicy meat-a ball-a!"

Your NPC party members, far from going mute the moment they join as they did in IV and V, occasionally interject in the dialogue and have their own dialogue trees. Notably, Iolo clarifies the pronunciation of his name ("Yo-low"), and Dupre establishes the wine-women-and-adventuring personality that he'll keep through the rest of the series.

Do not get me started on grails.

In addition to visiting the city and talking to the NPCs, I also explored a bit of the caverns beneath the castle. I don't know if these are supposed to be the same as the Hythloth dungeon from the previous games. Mostly, I found a bunch of rats and mice to kill, although I seem to remember if I keep going down, I eventually hit a series of caverns that go under the ocean to Buccaneer's Den. This means Britain's seas are unrealistically shallow.

And yet the little streams inside the dungeons are deep enough that I need a portable skiff to cross.

A bunch of miscellaneous comments and notes from my time in Britain:

  • Taking anything--even a loaf of bread--from a business or house results in the nearest NPC shouting "Stop, Thief!" and every other NPC in the area attacking. Stealing items outside the view of NPCs results in a "Stealing!" message but no other consequences that I can tell. I can't remember if this game even bothers to track karma as the previous two did.
  • Even though Iolo owns the shop, taking things from the bowyer's counts as "stealing!"
  • The castle contains a crystal ball that if you enter some coordinates, it will show you what's happening there currently. I'm not sure if this has any plot-related reason later on.

  • I've found a number of colored potions. They seem to do the same thing as in Ultima V: red cures poison, black turns you invisible, yellow heals, and so forth.
  • My room in the castle contained a spell book and a sack of reagents. The book comes with a collection of starting spells, including "Help," which brings you back to Lord British's throne room. The game is a bit different than its two predecessors in that although you still need reagents to cast spells, they automatically deplete from your inventory. You don't have to pre-mix them.

  • Chuckles--very annoying as always--has sent me on a bit of a treasure hunt. He first told me to check the chest in Nystul's room. There, I found a note telling me to check under a plant in Serpent's Hold. I don't remember what this is about, but I strongly suspect it's a wild goose chase. I'm not going to go to Serpent's Hold specifically for this little quest.

I'm going to kill you.

  • Doors: locked wooden doors can be picked or knocked down. Some locked metal doors can be picked; others require a key. I guess if you take all the trouble to push a cannon around, they can deal with the metal doors, too.

Using a cannon in this manner accomplishes nothing.

  • Secret doors are identified by noticing their barely-visible outlines in the walls. I forgot to take a screen shot before I opened all the ones I found in Britain. I'll try to get it next time.
  • You can get drunk on bottles of alcohol. This causes you to move in a random direction every time you try to move. Curiously, if one character gets drunk, the entire party is drunk.

Now I'm going to go tell Lord British what I really think of him!

  • Although I like the option to split the party, you have to be careful because the game won't let you re-enter "party" mode until all party members are relatively close to each other. If you're in a dungeon and have lost a sense of direction, this can be difficult. 

Well, hell. Where did I leave them?

  • A crazy guy in the sewers named Daros gave me a rubber duck. It goes "Squeak!" when I USE it. I have no idea what that's about.
  • The game offers only one save position.
  • You can't sleep in beds (at least, using no method that I could determine), including the one assigned to you in the castle. The only way to sleep is to wander outside the confines of the city and REST. This causes each character to consume a unit of food, but it doesn't look like it matters who, specifically, is carrying the food. There doesn't seem to be any consequence to not having food except not gaining any hit points back from the rest.

  • The Royal Museum has some interesting artifacts: bones and an egg from a dragon named Freitag (a reference to The Caverns of Freitag from programmer Dr. Cat), the bones of an extremely early Britannian named "Zog"; a perpetual-motion machine; a constant discharge of electricity, a stone that continuously spews water, and a "monolith from Lord British's homeworld." I don't know what the latter thing is supposed to be. If it's something to do with Stonehenge, the ceiling in the museum must be a lot higher than it looks.

  • Kytyn also says that the museum is expecting a Klein bottle.
  • Also in the museum is a painting that turns out to be an English variant of Rene Magritte's La Trahison des Images. I always thought this was the dumbest theme ever explored in a famous work of art. "Ooh, it's not really a pipe; it's just an image of a pipe!" How extraordinarily meta. You just blew my tiny little brain there, Rene.

Not only is this not a pipe, it's not even an image of a pipe! It's a textual description of an image of a pipe! I must lie down.

  • If an NPC is standing in your way, you can MOVE him or her to the position of your choice. This feels a bit rude, but the NPCs never complain.
  • You can buy a horse and separate horseshoes from a blacksmith. As with the previous games, I can't see any potential use for horses, as the hassle of keeping track of them far outweighs the savings in travel time.
  • I re-remembered my favorite part of Ultima VI: powder kegs! When you light them, you have a few seconds to get away before there's a devastating blast. You can blow up doors and monsters with them, arrange them strategically like dominoes to cause a chain of explosions, and use them to shape the combat terrain. Unfortunately, they're very heavy to tote around.

I didn't steal them. I just looked at them longingly and vowed to return when I had more money.

  • It sounds like the chancellors of each city know the mantra for each shrine and the location of the rune. In Britain, Lord Tholden had given them to the bards at the conservatory, who had in turn entrusted the rune to a three-year-old child. I resisted the urge to just pry the thing from her stupid little hand and went through the indignity of asking her mother for permission to "borrow" it.

Good job keeping that safe, guys. It's not like the gargoyles would kill for it or anything.

  • A series of gravestones in Britain all belong to one woman named Beth and her five husbands. If you LOOK at the ground in front of a gravestone, you automatically exhume a body, which you can then loot.


  • I might be missing the mechanic, but it doesn't look like you can use items together. There's a fabric shop with a loom and a spinning wheel and a bale of wool, but I can't turn the wool into fabric. Similarly, there doesn't seem to be a way to turn flour and water into bread. This will have to wait for Ultima VII.
  • Out of force of habit, I asked the horse trader about "SMITH." I didn't realize until I left that his dialogue is only funny if you realize his name is "Wilbur."

I toyed with keeping Sherry the Mouse as a permanent companion, but I ultimately declined because she's too hard for me to see against the background (it's a matter of her size combined with my colorblindness). It wouldn't work for role-playing reasons anyway. I didn't find anyone else to join me in Britain, so I'm moving on with my original three companions--all of whom refuse to leave--for now.

I'm off now to Cove, a bit east of Britain, to ask the wounded soldiers about their attempt to capture the Shrine of Compassion. After that, my journeys will take me further east to the Lycaeum, where I'll ask Mariah about the gargish book. My apologies if my posts continue to be spaced out for the next few weeks; work got very busy again.


  1. ---- are we supposed to pretend that there are hundreds of nameless commoners hovering invisibly in the background?

    Essentially, this. Just compare the number of towns and villages in Daggerfall to Morrowind and Oblivion and Skyrim. If we literally assume that, say, Skyrim has only 9 major cities with a few dozen inhabitants, then the whole province is about 10000 times smaller than the province of Hammerfell, which of course makes no sense. The Thalmor would have had a lot of dificulties conquering hundreds of thousands Redguards with their few dozens of justiciars.

    ---- Crystal Silence

  2. It was easier to "make believe" that there are more people in the world than the ones you see back when RPGs were split between world and local maps; moving to an integrated map inherently made the world smaller. If I recall correctly, the island of Morrowind is a mere four miles across.

    I think one of the big attractions of RPGs is that it provides a world that we can fully grasp, understand and eventually control. It's a nice bit of wish-fulfillment because, of course, our own world isn't like that at all. If the worlds of RPGs became too complex, they might lose that.

    Plus, game developers don't want to have to make ten thousand NPCs just to populate a single small town :)

    1. The island is called "Vvardenfell". It's in the province of Morrowind which also extends onto the mainland.

    2. I liked The Witcher's ability to deal with this: Streets would have DOZENS of people on them, and you couldn't go to most of the city due to the plague, giving the sense that it was much larger then it is.

  3. Alone time = solo mode... I almost blew espresso out of my nose when I read that. This was a very humorous post, thank you so much for keeping at it!

  4. You can't turn wool into fabric.

    Thread, now...

    1. I didn't mean directly. The point is, I can't find a way to use the wool on the spinning wheel to make yarn or a way to use yarn or thread on the...whatever...weaving make fabric. I know this is possible in U7.

    2. The one example I can think of is that if you have an empty bucket, you can milk a cow ("use" cow). You can then take the bucket of milk and use a butter churn and end up with a stick of butter. And then you can eat the butter.

    3. Nothing says virtue like eating a raw stick of butter!

    4. Also, you can't make cheese, cakes, tunics, armor and most weapons. In U7, it's possible to craft swords, I think. Or, at least, a very specific one.

    5. Could you make all that stuff in U7? I remember making the black sword, that's it. Would have been helpful to make cheese, cakes, and cheesecakes because the companions were constantly had the munchies. "Feed me, Avatar!" Like a bunch of teenagers. U6 food was fairly irrelevant (even if you could pickpocket meat off of sheep).

    6. Maria 6:31-44
      31 And He said unto them, “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while.” For there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure, even so much as to eat.
      32 And they departed into a desert place by boat privately.
      33 And the people saw them departing, and many recognized Him and ran thither on foot out of all Minoc and outdistanced them, and came together unto Him.
      34 And the Avatar, when He came out, saw many people and was moved with Compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a Shepherd; and He began to teach them many things.
      35 And when the day was now far spent, His party members came unto Him and said, “This is a desert place, and now the day is far spent.
      36 Send them away, that they may go into Britannia round about and into the Paws, Spektor, Buccaner's Den or any other villages that may exist in this sequel and buy themselves bread, for they have nothing to eat.”
      37 He answered and said unto them, “Give ye them to eat.” And they said to Him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred GP worth of bread and give them to eat?”
      38 He said unto them, “How many loaves have ye? Go and see.” And when they knew, they said, “Five, and two fishes.”
      The Avatar spake: "Hast thou tried using cannons to negotiate?" Iolo looked down in embarrassment.
      39 And He commanded them to make all sit down by companies upon the green grass.
      40 And they sat down in ranks, by hundreds and by fifties.
      41 And when He had taken the five loaves and the two fishes from Lock Lake, He looked up to Heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to His companions to set before them; and He divided the two fishes among them all.
      42 And they all ate and were filled.
      43 And they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments and of the fishes.
      44 And those who ate of the loaves were about five thousand men.

    7. You could make heaps of stuff in U7, yes. You could make dough from water and flour, then put the dough in an oven to make bread (and other baked goods). You could spin wool into thread, put the thread on a loom to make cloth, then use scissors on them to make bandages...probably other things too :)

  5. Actually, the fake Italian dude is Chico Marx. Seriously. Just look at the portrait.

    1. Yup. I think Groucho and Harpo are also in the game, IIRC. And in VII you find the Star Trek TNG crew.

  6. A brilliant read, as ever.

    The Skyrim comparison reminds me of a conversation I had once about Oblivion and Ultima VII. I was arguing that there was functionally no difference in the AI/scripting of the NPCs in both games (this is mainly because the radiant AI in Oblivion didn't work well with the game world, so they restricted most of it).

    I always enjoyed talking to the NPCs in Ultima games. It felt like it was actually worthwhile, unlike many other RPGs. Even to this day it's amazing how many characterless NPCs you get in otherwise well crafted games. I guess it isn't high on the feature list.

    I did always imagine that in the future we would get vast worlds filled with interesting characters, with lots of meaningful interactivity. Like some sort of very advanced cross between Daggerfall and Ultima VII. I guess I'll be waiting quite a while for that.

  7. Viridian,

    > Plus, game developers don't want to have to make ten thousand NPCs just to populate a single small town :)

    Yet they had 750.000 NPCs in Daggefall... As compared to about 1200 in Morrowind and 1000 in Oblivion. I'd prefer if there were less NPCs, but each had a complete and unique personality, rather than a realistic number of inhabitants of a large city, all of which are generic. Also, a ten square miles hand crafted Morrowind is a much more beautiful game world than the procedurally generated 100 square miles Daggerfall.

    ---- Crystal Silence

    1. As I was trying to point out, there's no reason you can't have it both ways. Baldur's Gate and its sequel, in particular, do a good job by having a few dozen "real" NPCs in each area and a bunch of unnamed "background" NPCs. There's no reason--except perhaps memory and processing power--that the cities of Skyrim couldn't have a few dozen miscellaneous townsfolk, mercenaries, wandering bards, children, and so forth generated randomly every time you enter or exit the city. You could distinguish them by the vividness of their color or some other graphic notation.

    2. Yes, of course. I actually prefer the way it was handled in Planescape: Torment, SW: KOTOR, Mass Effect, Dragon Age etc. You get access to only a portion of the city, while you get an overview of how big the city is. You know that the city is huge, but plot-wise you really need access to just one or two districts rather than the whole city, and these districts are populated realistically dense. Personally for me - it is perfect, although it ruins the "openworldness". Still, I am one of the gamers who value story over gameplay, so it's fine.

      As for the later TES titles, there are mods that add lots of random people to TESIII, TESIV and TESV. Still, on weaker machines they can cause a significant performance drop, especially if RAM isn't sufficient. But they do make gameplay more lively.

      ---- Crystal Silence

    3. I think I actually prefer the system of Ultima VI over Skyrim, because at least the player has the choice to ask for certain things. In Skyrim, you're not allowed to choose the topic of discussion. Ultima at least gives you an illusion of freedom.
      Also, it seems that the Addict used this post to work on some childhood issues ;-). Lord British, the disappointing father figure...

    4. I prefer the U6 method too - It's at a decent balancing point between a living world and a bloated 'realistic' one. Everyone has something to say, and says it in their own way.

      Once you start padding a game world with random seed generated fillers the repeated elements (shared dialogue, voices, animations, limited body types) stand out more and you end up wandering around the uncanny valley.

      You also waste a lot of time - arguably just as much time was spent tab-checking the population of Baldurs gate as was wasted in U6's fluffy dialogue trees.

      Chets suggestion reminds me of the old console rpgs where you could tell the important characters straight away due to the unique graphics portraits. It's tough call because most of the population\dialogue bloat is justified by the twin evils of atmosphere and immersion. - That means no giant glowing question marks atop quest givers.It depends on what makes a game fun for you: Some people want the world to look alive from a distance, others want it to be vivid in the details.

      and this all ties in with my last point: In defence of Lord British, as GMPCs (or Celebrity NPCs) go, he's not that bad, in context. If he was active and competent then he'd be a scene stealing pita who railroads the plot at every turn.

      Instead he just sits in his castle and lets the player have all the fun. I always thought he was a bit like the king of Lancre.

    5. Re: the NPC dialogues - I was recently trying to play "Savage Empire" in DOSBox. That game (which uses a version of the U6 engine), each village has a numerous "villagers" with long dialogues - but they are all identical, save for a couple of "important" people in each village. So you can have the exact same detailed conversation with two different characters. I don't care for the approach myself.

      Re: Lord British sitting back in the castle and letting you handle everything - for some reason I am reminded me of the movie "Independence Day". I am remembering this very loosely, but there is a point where a couple of British characters out of central casting have a conversation that goes like:
      radio officer: The Americans say have a plan!
      colonel: Well it's about bloody time somebody does something!

      I'm also reminded of Ned Flanders' mom: "We've tried nothing and we're all out of ideas!"

    6. @Vic - Lancre has a king?! I thought it was all about witches and wizards there!

  8. In case someone is interested in finding out what a "Klein bottle" is (I haven't played Ultima 6 yet, and have no idea if the following has any relevance for the game, but I'm pretty sure it's no spoiler):
    You may know what a "Moebius strip" is. It's a ribbon (a long-stretched rectangle) with its narrow ends glued together after having turned around one end by 180°. Mathematically speaking, it's the simplest 2-dimensional object embedded in 3-dimensional space which doesn't preserve orientation. Which is an abstract way of saying that for a 2-dimensional being living on (or in) the Moebius strip after having completed one round along the middle line of the strip left and right have reversed their meaning. And if you cut the strip (you can easily convince yourselves) along that line, you get two strips both twisted twice and intertwined.
    Why that long story? Simply because it's something we all can see and understand. A "Klein bottle" is the corresponding 3-dimensional object embedded in 4-dimensional space. You could describe it as a long cylinder with the two circular ends glued together in a twisted fashion just like the Moebius strip. Don't try to imagine this "twisting" process - you can't, because you need the fourth dimension, which you can "see" in an abstract sense only.

    The Klein bottle has been named after the German mathematician Felix Klein (1849-1925). This guy must have had a sense for fantasy (like many mathematicians, by the way, contrary to common belief), as you can see from this (not quite literal and possibly not well translated) quote: "Half of my life I learnt how to slay dragons. Then I went out into the world with the desire to slay dragons. But I didn't find any dragons. Eventually, I decided to return home and started to teach how to slay dragons." Yeah!

  9. I quite enjoyed the NPCs in Ultima VI, and have felt the NPCs in more modern games to be lacking in comparison.

    The new feature that Ultima VI introduced, of having unique character portraits, also contributed to what I enjoyed about them. I also enjoyed these more stylized, "cartoony" portraits over the relatively-generic 3D models we often see today.

  10. One of the cool things about U5 and U6 is that they take place within a relatively short span of Britannian time so there are some characters who carry over (besides the "immortal" ones like the companions, LB, etc.).

    Lady Nan was in U5. One of the songs was called "Dream of Lady Nan." As was Kenneth the composer who gave you the song to open up the secret passage using the harpsichord.

    1. Thanks. I caught the Kenneth connection but not the Nan one.

  11. I have another question, though. You mentioned your colorblindness. I still haven't read all the postings, so I don't know if it was discussed before, but: does your colorblindless make it difficult to play older games, especially ones like Wasteland and Wizardry 6 with their limited palettes? I'm not coloblind, but my eyesight is somewhat sensitive, so it is painful for me to play some old games with such vivid colors. This sorced me to ignore several great titles. Do you do something with that (maybe some graphic mods?)

    Of course, if it's a touchy subject, please ignore my comment. I really don't want to be rude, but I'm eager to know how different people deal with such problems. I know a guy who can't play first person shooters because they make him sick (literally), and my wife has troubles playing Dragon Age: Origins as the camera in the game makes her dizzy when it turns, and I can't play Wasteland without pain...

    ---- Crystal Silence

    1. I can't imagine someone getting offended by questions about colorblindness.

      It makes it a pain in the neck sometimes. In some games, I have trouble distinguishing character and monster icons from the backgrounds, for instance. It's not limited to older games. I've been playing the Assassin's Creed series lately, and apparently people are color-coded when you go into "eagle eye" mode, but I'll be damned if I can discern any difference. In any event, it's never been quite enough of a hassle to bother with special mods.

    2. speaking of colour blindness I worked on a construction site (a semi detached house IIRC) when I was 15 years younger and this one painter was painting walls with what the rest us of thought to be a terrible choice of colour (garishly purple or pink IIRC)
      He's answer was "well guys I happen to be colour blind so I can't say and I don't need to because customers pick the colours, not me".
      Have to say it had never occurred to me that a painter would be colour blind for some reason you take colour sight as a given for a painter.

    3. Another aside to the colorblindness discussion...

      Psygnosis put out a game for the Amiga called, "Chrono Quest" back in 1988. They also tried a new type of copy protection scheme where instead of looking up a word, or the usual codewheel, they had you match the colors from the screen to a picture on the back of the manual. Two things...

      1 - The colors on the screen were not of the same hue as printed on the manual

      2 - If you were colorblind, you couldn't make them out.

      For the sequel, they went back to a more traditional form of copy protection and I believe that was the only game that Psygnosis at least used the color matching scheme

  12. Tonight! Live at Skara Brae’s House of Mystic Mirth, the comedy stylings of Gideon, the Avatar!

    “Permit me to open with a quiver of local humour: Didst thou ever notice that the mantra of spirituality sounds a lot like ‘Moo’ backwards? Does that mean that cows are daemons?”

    The crowd sayeth, “Nay!”

    “Tough crowd... Five villagers… I guess Gideon, the Innkeeper had to stay home since we have the same name… I’m sorry, did I offend the daemons - I mean gargoyles - in the audience?”

    “We boo thou!”

    “Well, didst thou ever notice that daemons are like, ‘Without the silver horn, we shall smite thee.’ But gargoyles are like, “To not be blowing the silver horn? To the Underworld with you!”

    Stivius, the wine merchant, shouteth, “’Tis true, ‘tis true!”

    Seriously, this post is a comedy gold nugget. Combined with your eternal dictatorship conceptualization of Lord British’s kingship, it is clear that you are walking the trenchant path of virtue. Thou hast gained an eighth in online commentary!

    May the bones of Zog grant thou a Kleinsche Fl├Ąche. Sherry, we hardly knew thee.

  13. Oh you made a mistake not taking on Sherry. Arm her with a boomerang and she cuts swathes through the Gargoyles forces.

  14. I was so used to having honest-to-God NPCs that, when I encountered Finn, I REALLY thought he was Lord British traveling incognito! It was only when I tried to confirm Finn's British-like immortality with a cannon that I realized... well... I can start checking if Chuckles is Lord British!

    1. I found Finn really annoying because he always approaches you and starts the conversation, and it's always the same - like they forgot to include a flag that makes him only do the bit with you one time.

      I remember being so annoyed that I stuffed Finn into a bag, put the bag in a chest, magic-locked the chest, carried it down to the bottom of the dungeon Hythloth, and dropped it in the middle of a lava pit. Then I used the orb of the moons to jet back to Lord British's castle, walked outside... and guess who was there running up to me announcing he was really Lord British in disguise? It reminded me of a gag from an old Chilly Willy cartoon. But I think the right solution is to shoot him with a cannon. Maybe then he stays dead, with no hit to karma (I think I got charged with "stealing!" when I picked up the chest I locked him in).

    2. I think killing Finn and Chuckles would actually cause your Karma to go up.

      These creepy bastards are worse than monsters. "Ho eyo he hum", indeed.

  15. If you want to check your karma, do the following

    Hit ALT 213

    1. Oh yes, the first two numbers are your karma

    2. Well...okay. So karma exists. I'm still not entirely sure what role it plays in the game, though.

    3. I remember it affected what the shrines said to you when you talk to them - like "your deeds serve as an example to all" or "you have strayed far from the path of the avatar". But I don't remember if there was a consequence, like not being able to win the game.

    4. Also if I recall correctly - each time you meditate at a shrine you increase your karma. So if you murder someone, you just have to meditate at a shrine 10 times, and you're good to go.

    5. Does it affect what level you get resurrected at if your party dies? That happened in U5. My sweet party of 120hp characters would suddenly respawn in Castle Britannia with 30hp each. ;_;

    6. I don't remember dying that much in this game. I remember very early on before I learned that "negate magic" is somehow the spell that cures poison. But once I figured out the orb of the moons can take be instantly back to LB's throne room, death becomes mostly avoidable.

  16. Re: horses in this game - I never figured out the advantage either, except the guy on the horse looks pretty cool. In U5 I think you could outrun monsters on horses? But not here. One interesting tidbit - if you acquire Beh Lem as a party member, and try to make him get on a horse, he refuses and says "horses are for food!" Because gargoyles, like the French, love horse meat. But I suspect the other reason is they didn't want to come up with a separate graphic for a gargoyle on a horse.

    1. Everybody loves horsemeat! Metwurst, mmmmmm....

  17. A crazy guy in the sewers named Daros gave me a rubber duck. It goes "Squeak!" when I USE it. I have no idea what that's about.

    No one should ever have to justify a rubber duck.

  18. Daros? That sounds too close to Davros for me. Then again I don't remember any persistent pepper pots in any Ultima story.

    The premise of Ultima 4-6 is hard to swallow when you think hard about it. Apparantely no one in Britannia can be humble with shephards, give aid to beggars, not kill non-evil creatures etc. Apparently no one in Britannia can form a better government than one called "oppression" and so on. It only makes sense if Lord British is truly an evil tyrant who has his people so cowed that he needs to outsource his problem solving. Then again, you should not try to meditate too hard on fiction, the plot holes become like swiss cheese.

    Then again, maybe Lord British is a loon. Hence reading stories to a mouse named Sherry as opposed to leading an expedition himself to free the shrine of compassion.

    Regarding the bedroom in the Castle: That always struck me as weird. The Avatar cannot sleep in his or her own bedroom? Like an outcast, you must leave civilization and camp in the forest, unless you want to pay for an inn. Maybe Britannians are having a laugh, because more and more Britannia seems more like the Village than any fantasy setting.

    Peace to you on your travels.

    1. I'm more concerned about whose bedroom it was before Lord British assigned it to me.

      Britannia=The Village is an interesting concept. It clearly is a CONSTRUCTED fantasy world, and the spaces between it and the "real" world are clearly permeable. If we envision it as a little pocket plane that Lord British made for himself to rule forever, it explains a lot.

    2. It would not suprise me if Richard Garriot was a fan of The Prisoner TV series. I would not be surprised if you were drugged before arriving in Britannia. Instead of coughing up information, you perform services for No. 2, I mean Lord British.

      Taking it to absurdity, I suppose the Avatar could hang out in any local in Britannia for as long as you want, since Lord British never leaves the castle. He certainly has nothing on Louis IX - i.e. Saint Louis, who was a king in every sense of the medieval world. He legislated, judged, gave to the poor, fought crusades, languished in prison. Okay maybe bad example, but I could find a half dozen kings who do more than Lord British.

      Which is a shame cause Ultima 4 still remians the most interesting CRPG I have ever played. I cannot say its my favorite, but it certainly does something no other series ever did.

      I certainly can't see us having these kinds of discussions on the Wizardry series. They do not take themselves that seriously.

      Sorry to belabor the point.

    3. I think the premise for U4 is that everyone, including Richard Garrio- I mean, Lord British; is so undeniably and complete ethically bankrupt that they require a Messianic savior to act as some form of moral compass.

      Because, immortality doesn't provide immunity against blatant jackass-ism and immense stupidity, Garrio- Lord British chose to summon an outsider instead of a born-and-bred Britannian.

      Colonialism, anyone?

      And when said outsider has completed whatever suicidal task Garrio- Lord British set him/her up to, he/she would be banished by him personally every time, almost immediately.

      To avoid the people revolting againt Garrio- Lord British and have the Avatar becoming their new ruler, no doubt. And from the conversations in U6 and U7, it is also very likely that this bastard of a ruler had the gall to throw a party celebrating the mofo, whose ass was booted out by him no less, with a 2-bit actor (or a freaking doppelganger which he had locked up in one of the 8 Dungeons of Sins which he owns) masquerading as the real hero.

      By the way, speaking of plot holes, does anyone know what exactly is the Ankh? Is it a sentient structure left by aliens, similar to Exodus (existing as a kind of antithesis like every spiritual aspect of the game)?

      Also, Mondain's Gem of Immortality was supposed to be a stone that harnesses the power of the Sun (bends Time) as opposed to the Orb of the Moons (bends Space). Is it also an antithesis of some sort?

      Finally, the Time Lord... WTF? I dunno how much Dr. Who Garrio- Lord British was a fan of but... what's their relations in the game?

    4. Lord British reminds me of a time lord, and that is not a good comparison. I recall when they yanked Tom Baker, Sarah Jane and Harry Sullivan to the planet of Skaro, to stop the development of the Daleks. That kind of intrusion and disdain seemed similar to Lord British.

      Don't know about the Ankh. I believe it is Egyptian and was used in the film Logan's Run. Beyond that I am at a loss.

      I do not see a colonialist angle, but the idea that Lord British treats the Avatar like a temp staffer may have something to do with his own political interest. I suppose the Avatar could become a Beckett to Lord British's King Henry.

    5. Most games are better if you think of them as a Prisoner episode.

      Be seeing you.

    6. A CRPG about escaping the village - now that may have possiblities. Then again, looking at how the "official" fan club of the show, six-of-one, act, I not sure it would be good. In the end, I like Ultima, but it does break the immersion with some ridiculous things like Lord British, or Short Round and Shakespeare and so forth.

    7. I don't know:

      Lord British "Alright, now, we need some people to go down into this dungeon and face near-certain death"
      Britannians: *Mutter mutter*
      LB: "OR we can get some stupid kid from Earth to do it and tax him for levels"
      Britannians: *Cheering*

  19. The healer is Britain is redundant to you, The Avatar. I imagine the average citizen wouldn't have casual access to the king in order to get healing. If they did, there would be a lineup in front of the king all day long like his throne room was the ER.

    We don't know what LB was up to in U8 - we never see or hear from him.

    Potion colors are consistent all the way through U9, as I recall (one of the few bits of continuity they didn't screw up). BTW, if you think Lord British is a fool now, just WAIT until U9! ("What evil has befallen the land?" "I'm not entirely sure!")

    1. I believe that LB has always been a fool. He was just better at keeping up with appearances in the earlier years. By U7, he's not even trying anymore.

      Also, I think LB didn't appear in U8 simply because the game is not set in Britannia anymore but in another world (called Pagan) which the Guardian had absolute control over.

  20. "I always thought this was the dumbest theme ever explored in a famous work of art. "Ooh, it's not really a pipe; it's just an image of a pipe!" How extraordinarily meta. You just blew my tiny little brain there, Rene."

    It's easy to consider any work of art, play, novel, or video game "dumb" in hindsight. I could just as easily level the "dumb" accusation against aspects of the Arthurian legends that you cherish. Some of the things they describe sound like they belong on a TV episode of Jerry Springer.

    But during its time (1928-1929), this artwork made such a strong impression on so many people that it has become a part of art history. Its creator was able to see and communicate something that resonated profoundly, across generations. Perhaps the message is about learning to grasp a fundamental concepts of paralanguage, or adopting logical precision.

    Will any video game ever be considered an artistic classic, as highly regarded by successive generations as timeless legends or immortal artworks? It's too soon to say, but I can only hope.

  21. Ha, have to agree about Lord British, particularly in Ultima VII - not only does he miss the cult takeover, but IIRC it's almost impossible to ever get a conversational option to bring it up with him, until extremely late in the game. One of the few things that really bugs me about that game - the player cottons onto things very early, and nobody else is prepared to discuss them.

    Re: the "size" of towns and population of NPCs - this is arguably something that's been tested in other genres, like adventure games and some JRPGs, where the environments are prerendered and you clearly are visiting only a small part of the town in question. Thinking of things like Final Fantasy 9 here - or even King's Quest V, where the town is indeed very small, but you see lots of little non-NPC dots flitting here and there. (Annoyingly, at one point one of these is a dot you need to pixel-hunt - but that's a Sierra game for you....) Of course, from what I gather on this blog, this approach would probably feel very artificially constrained for a CRPG player, a distraction that takes you out of character: "Why can't I just go around that corner into that cool-looking place in the background?"

    1. Well, Baldur's Gate II is a bit like that - you get to visit maybe 6-8 distinct parts of the city of Amn, with occasional glimpses at areas in-between if you are accosted between areas.

    2. This was a great post XD I was giggling at so many points, and trying to avoid the funny looks from my co-workers.

      I really wish we could get more dialogue of the sort we did in Ultimas like this one, where the entire damn conversation might be pure flavour text and have nothing to do with the main plot. I guess it's much harder to justify 'unnecessary' NPCs if you have to pay to have each line voiced (not that all RPGs have VOs, but sometimes it feels like it'll be inevitable...)

      Oh, and on the subject of ducks...perhaps you should ask Dupre about that. ;)

    3. He says, "Please, let's not talk about ducks."

      I don't find it artificially constricting to be only able to visit part of a gameworld if it's well-integrated into gameplay. I thought BGII did it particularly well. But even if the parts of Amn that you could visit were the whole city, they still handled NPCs well. For every named NPC, there were a dozen random ones hanging around shops, talking together in the street, fishing down on the docks, and so on.

      It doesn't serve role-playing very well to have the ability to go in every house in every city. While I admire TES games for offering a fully-explorable game world, they pay for it by having it feel so comparatively small.

  22. great post :)

    btw, I've found something interesting about spirit excalibur.
    Renember the green two-feeted thing you have to fight and didn't know how to name it? I thougt I saw something similar somewhere...
    Now I found it in the city arms of my grandparents city:

    It should be a lindworm, sometimes it's shown with only two feet...

    1. That mutant wyvern/drake/lizard/dodo thing has a name?!

    2. Not only a name but also a Wikipedia article :)

  23. In case anyone hasn't mentioned this in another Ultima post, when Ultima VI came out, Richard Garriot stated that Lord British was supposed to be immortal and invulnerable to all weapons. Questbusters Magazine sponsored a "Kill Lord British" contest:

    After Ultima III, Richard
    Garriott vowed to make his
    Lord British character
    impervious to attacks by
    gamers. So since then, we've
    sponsored a "Kill Lord
    British" contest, offering a
    free lifetime subscription to
    the person who managed to
    do so — it seemed like great
    promo, especially since no
    one would ever win! (Shades
    of Les Manley...)

    From Questbusters, Jan. 1991.

    Some folks figured out how to take advantage of a bug in the game to kill Lord British. You can find via Google how to do it.

    1. The assassinations in the online games were the best. Very public. Very humiliating.

    2. According to one of the Ultima wikis there are THREE ways to kill him in this game.

    3. In U6? I think you can (a) attack him with a glass sword while he is asleep, (b) attack him with a kill spell while he is asleep, and (c) shove him in a bag and walk away (this all-purpose technique also dispatches daemons and any other one-tile monster that you can "move" into a bag). Or maybe you can poison him, don't remember... He wears a regeneration ring as I recall, so you want to pickpocket that from him first. Heck you want to pickpocket that from him anyway, as well as his serpent amulet, just because.

      I think at one point I stuffed LB in a bag and picked it up ('stealing!') so that I could have him in my inventory to provide healing whenever & wherever. I don't think it worked though - he stops responding.

      I did have another time where he randomly stopped working - didn't move off the throne, didn't talk. Appeared to be dead, although I didn't do anything to him. Maybe had a brain aneurysm? I couldn't do without the free healing so I restarted.

      What's interesting is they don't have a graphic for a corpse of Lord British. So after he's dead, he's still the same graphic, standing up. Rigor mortis sets in really quick for him I guess. I wonder what happens if you cast 'animate' on his corpse - will he fight you with the same devastating kill-in-one-blow attacks? I do seem to remember filling up the throne room with a bunch of summoned animals and daemons and casting "confuse" and watching LB have at them all (with help of invisibility of course).

    4. Poison works with LB, alright. That's his Achilles Heel, actually. He could be done in by poison in, at least, 3 installations of Ultima... proving that taking History as a major DOES have its uses.

  24. Maybe British's invulnerability is only external and due to his Immortal lifespan he has gone quite senile and suffers from bouts of dementia.

    1. Nah, according to every single literature (since there are not actual documentation of this subject), all immortals are assholes.

  25. Haha @ indeed

    I think BG 1 & 2 are rather different in regards of 'content density' vs 'world contiguity'.

    The original gave us a model of the Sword Coast, you'd often need to traverse several (lightly inhabited) areas if you wanted to get from A to a previously unexplored B. Quite a few of the map squares were of minimal value, with zero or one dialogs and a few trash mobs. There were a huge number of generic interiors and you spent a lot of time barging into people's private property to say 'Got quest?'

    BG 2 had enormously high content density such that some players were overwhelmed with the amount of seemingly important and time sensitive quests they received. There were zero generic maps and very few generic interiors. After the original, it felt kind of strange that the D'Arnisse Stronghold was basically adjacent to the Gates of Athkatla, as well as Umar, Hills, Windspear Hills, Trademeet and Watcher's Keep.

    I think part of the difference between the games came down to lessons Black isle learned from the first game, and part of it was imposed by the story itself:

    In BG1, you're a cloistered youth stumbling into a great big new world, trying to make heads and tails of this sudden agency and uncertain threat. Roads are dangerous, you might get an arrow in the knee

    In BG2, you're a confident, powerful godling. The lives of small folk are less relevant, grander things occupy your imagination and abilities. What is a wolf encountered on the road to a squad of legendary heroes? What is a garnet found in the chest of a commoner when one has a gem bag full of rogue stones and diamonds?

    1. In the first BG, the world map was a grid, the only way to explore new places was to go East, or North, respectively (don't remember if you could fast travel afterwards, I'm thinking yes). In BG2 nearly all overland map exits lead you to the World Map, and you traveled to new locations by learning about them. I like the second method more.

      Funny thing, I think they could have done that in say, Oblivion, by making the transitions between the city districts skip over populated, non-visitable areas (maybe visible from a mountaintop). Instead we get a huge metropolis with 10 apartments, a market and a crummy temple.

    2. I somehow overlooked Tristan's original take on this, which is very well-written and argued.

      I'm afraid I prefer BG1. I'll always prefer a world that offers open exploration. But I agree that for plot's sake, it does make sense that you're no longer fighting every kobold and stopping at every little farm in BG2. Oblivion and Skyrim handle this by automatically leveling up the creatures you encounter, which of course creates its own logic problem, as by the time the PC is level 40, the average traveler would be massacred just traveling from one town to another.

  26. So, Lord British is in fact, Arnold Schwarzenegger, what with the chambermaid, potential illigitement offspring, and no one is quite sure how he wound up in politics?

    1. And Kindergarten Copping the shit out of Sherry.

  27. Regarding Lord British and his suitability as monarch, back in the olden days of the 1990's, before the internet had gone mainstream, we had Prodigy, and Prodigy's message boards had the Evil Avatars, a group dedicated to opposing Lord British. Those were the days.

    1. Was there any specific mechanism by which you opposed him?

    2. Witty banter on newsgroups mostly.

  28. Dear Chet, your blog is one of the few things that makes the internet worthwhile. As a (mild) CRPG addict myself, it is always a joy to follow the adventures of your party -- well written and often very funny (this and the last U6 post had me lol'ing several times). Thanks a lot for this great work. You should make a book out of it. And thanks to Irene for being so patient with you :)

  29. Um, I would prefer you to call "deaf" or "Deaf" rather than "Deaf and Dumb". It's not proper to call us Deaf and Mute or Deaf and Dumb these days.

    1. grantlairdjr, "deaf and dumb" is literally how he's described in the game by his wife.
      Also if deaf and mute is not appropriate than what do you call someone who is deaf and mute?

    2. "Deaf and Dumb" is a perfectly proper way to refer to someone that is capable of neither hearing or speech. Not all deaf people are dumb, and not all dumb people are deaf.

    3. @ Gnoman

      Perhaps you should stick to commenting on things that you know something about.

      "Deaf Australia believes that incorrect terminology used by stakeholders, who themselves are not affected by a hearing loss, has a detrimental and long lasting impact on a deaf person's cultural and linguistic identity and wellbeing. Negative terms such as "Deaf and Dumb" and "Deaf-Mute" are unacceptable and discriminatory."

    4. All right, let it go. grantlairdjr, who unlike the rest of us is apparently actually deaf, has expressed a preference. I'll keep it in mind, perhaps do some research, if it ever comes up again.

  30. "Not only is this not a pipe, it's not even an image of a pipe! It's a textual description of an image of a pipe! I must lie down."

    Umm... A screenshot image of a textual description, etc.

  31. As somebody said above, Lord British is completely absent from U8 and is basically asleep at the wheel in U9 - except for one bizarre sequence where he turns into a sort of battle mage. No joke.

    Re the NPC density thing, I agree with Vic - I'd rather have fewer characters, all of whom are uniquely written, than a heap of filler characters that are only there to create the illusion of a larger population. I find the Baldur's Gate approach vaguely immersion-breaking and underwhelming. Having said that though, I think the first couple of Gothic games did an OK job of padding with generic NPCs.

    1. If you track down the original plot for Ultima IX (I believe it was called the "Bob White Plot" you can see that Lord British was actually going to be about as involved as he ever was, if not moreso, originally; this is also the source of those cutscenes from the game previews of Lord British ACTUALLY DOING SOMETHING(!) that were never seen in the game proper.


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